Monday, September 8, 2014

Pieces of paper don't change reality ... Stop 29119

My family are a fairly spiritual one - my parents were after all hippies when I was born, and hence an awareness of ourselves, and our role within the world to make it a better place was an important part of our education.

My parents tried out a few churches as they grew older to find one which felt right - spiritual, and yet we were an engineering family.  Somehow religion and science really needed to be good bedfellows - so we ended up joining Winshill Methodist Church.

The Reverend there were a very passionate man named WH Pittam, who just had a great way with the congregation.  There are few men of the cloth who'd so relish playing Barabbas (the man who's freed instead of Jesus) in the Easter Story drama.

He could also do a mean sermon, and aim it at children.  One of the ones I remember being a favourite was the one about a lamb who'd had enough of being a sheep, and decided it wanted to be a lion.  And so it went through a transformation to make itself more of a lion - it got a wig to make a shiny mane of hair, it got a pair of vampire teeth to look more fierce, if tried to practice it's roar, and even went to far as to put a sign around it's neck to say "LION".  But it didn't really work.  It could come close to making itself appear more like a lion, but in truth it was no closer to being an actual lion. 

Certifications for all!

There is something quite close to this in the Wizard Of Oz - the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion go to the Wizard to get some trait they think is missing.  But their encounter and trials with Dorothy brings these abilities out of themselves naturally. In the end, the Wizard is exposed to be a snake oil salesman/con man.  And he still has a trick up his sleeve - yes the trio have found their own brains, heart and courage, but he gives them trinkets - the Scarecrow a paper certification (to show he has knowledge), the Tin Man a token of appreciation (to show he's a philanthropist) and the Lion a medal (to show he has courage).  The odd thing is the Wizard has done nothing really, all he's given each individual is a token to show others they have a trait that they already know they had.  Yet in the movie, everyone's most thankful (even though the Wizards real plan was to send them on a suicide mission).

So why does any of this matter?

Because it's happening right now, in testing.  I've spoken before about the potential pitfalls with ISTQB qualifications being a way to measure if someone is a "tester".  In the Wizard Of Oz, when the Wizard produce a paper certification, did the Scarecrow really get any smarted from it?  The Scarecrow showed his smarts through his trial with the Wicked Witch Of The West.  The Wizard didn't help or aid or mentor, be just pulled out a certificate.

The Wizard though said the certificate was important because it would show other people that the Scarecrow was smart.  But the truth is the Scarecrow had proved that smarts himself, and he owned that intelligence as his own - why should someone unconnected and unqualified essentially steal that with a certificate?  Someone really should have taken the Wizard to task.

But now we have a new issue on the testing horizon - ISO 29119, the standard on "software testing", and it has a lot of people in an uproar.  It's been doing the rounds for a while, and supposedly "been out for feedback".  People who have traced the standard have noticed that in all that time there doesn't seem to be much change occurred at all, although there has certainly been no shortage of comment.

The issue is it attempts to implement an idealised "best practice" to software testing as a mandatory standard, and encourages customers to make sure their vendors are compliant.  This is a great idea - we can follow an idealised model if the whole project delivers to testing following the strict idealised model for requirements and developments.  The harsh fact is though that projects are tailored around objectives, constraints and contexts which will take them in different ways off that "idealised path", and testing needs to flex with the rest of the team to find the best pragmatic method to match the project as it's being delivered.  To take on a rigid standard and sit in our ivory tower complaining that the project hasn't been delivered correctly for testing (as the ISO standard seems to encourage) reeks of unprofessionalism, and it really does not serve our customers.

It has potential to be detrimental to our industry, to the minds who make up it, and as said to the teams and customers we have skin in the game with.  The only people who seem to benefit from this are those who will be in charge of selling and auditing the standard.

There is a petition to force a rethink of the ISO 29119 standard, and I really encourage you to read through and make your own mind about this.  As before all I can encourage you to do is read the facts and make up your own mind.  As a tester, this standard will impact you.  Much like our lamb, having a sign saying "lion" won't make it a lion.  Having a certificate with a tick won't ensure your testing is really the "best practice" being followed for your customers.

The petition is here, and yes, I signed.

Some useful articles,

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